From Alaska to Dungeons & Dragons
Usually when I say that I get to travel for work, I mean I get to swing down to my hometown museum in California or to some mid-Western city for a conference. I don’t mean into unknown territories of the interwebs. However, this is increasingly happening as I try to do more without sophisticated technology. Now I spend hours pulling together nuanced search terms that inevitably lead me to weird discussion boards before linking me to obscure websites where - in exchange for my email address - I can gain access to beta versions of software my fledgling business can’t afford and that I can only semi-grasp. (That was quite the run-on sentence!)
One of my more amusing adventures involved an attempt to make my own hexagon map. Hexagon maps are a great way to represent data across a given terrain, particularly when you don’t want the size of territories within the specified area to create bias (known as “The Alaska Effect”). For a report I’m currently working on I wanted to be able to showcase the distribution of respondents across U.S. regions. I first built a bar graph… As you can see from the visual on the right, it is not a very sexy graph. It doesn’t tell an interesting a story about the data or how this data connects to location or even the reach of the program at hand.
I needed to spice things up. I needed to find a way to make this data pop and say something! I decided to make a hex-map! I had never made one before, but it’s a bunch of like shapes smooshed together. It couldn’t be that hard, right? Confident this would be true, I did what any savvy researcher would do. I googled “how to make a hex-map of the united states template.” I tried several variations on this. All search terms led me to the same key findings: Tableau! Unfortunately, my business is not yet in the position to acquire this software (I wish! I dream! These are long-term goals!). So… I did what any cheap, savvy researcher would do. I googled “how to make a hex-map of the united state without tableau” and “how to make a hex-map FREE” and several other variations. That is when things got interesting… I found myself on a DIY website for Dungeons and Dragons maps. You can see a screenshot of it below (if you click the image it will take you to the actual site!).
It is super important to clarify here that, while I am a self-proclaimed nerd, D&D sits outside my realm of nerdom. Aside from the acronym, most my knowledge comes from whatever I gleaned watching Stranger Things. I understand there are campaigns and some funky dice are involved. Someone reads from a book and passes judgement on others? It sounds cool enough, I guess. You can perhaps imagine my confusion when a search for a map of the United States led me to a place where I was supposed to literally build another world. This, of course, led to an hour spent watching tutorials on split screen as I tried to manipulate various aspects of the map. It got interesting. I did not create a world anyone (or any demagorgon? is that a real D&D thing?) would want to live in. Since these were not billable hours I decided that perhaps I should return to the google. Fortunately it didn’t take me long to find a template of the U.S. that was built on this platform to represent 2016 election data. Along with a warning that this was not the intended use of the platform, it had what I needed!
After locating the template it took me about 20 minutes to create a fun map that I’m excited to paste into my report. All I had to do was recolor the states to match my reports style guide, my actual data set, strip out the template text identifying states (that’s not relevant to my overall findings), and export the finished product to a JPEG. Et voila! Looks pretty snazzy, right?